The “objective insider”

Beitrag aus dem Modul zu afrikawissenschaftlichen Methoden (4. Semester, BA Afrikastudien, Sommersemester 2017) zum Thema Studierendenproteste.

Karien Krüger

The difficulties in staying objective, an evaluation of my personal process in writing a scientific paper about Afrikaans within the Open Stellenbosch Movement in South Africa.

During the process of writing a scientific paper, it is a prerequisite to stay objective,  that is to keep a distance when writing about a subject. The lines of distance and objectivity become blurred when you find yourself very close to the subject you are writing about. In this case I am an Afrikaans woman, who was researching the effects of the Open Stellenbosch Movement as it relates to the Afrikaans language. Being a white South African Afrikaans woman, I found myself within a European context, Germany, attempting to write about my language, my country, my identity and throughout the whole process I needed to stay objective.

In the course of the Open Stellenbosch Movement, the use of Afrikaans as the primary medium of education came under fire. Afrikaans is seen as the language of Apartheid and it has been reported that the use of it at the University of Stellenbosch promoted the exclusion of many other ethnic groups at the University.

As with many movements in 2015 the use of social media sites has seen an unprecedented increase. Thus it is no wonder that many posts about Open Stellenbosch were published on social media sites like Facebook, where the movement had created a homepage.  They ranged from posts that supported the Open Stellenbosch Movement wholeheartedly, to those that were against it. There were those that found the movement in itself credible, but the way in which it had been executed on Campus as completely outrageous:

“…How did that happen? How did we go from “All classes must be available in English” to “one settler, one bullet”?(…) Because I cannot (…) imagine what else “one settler, one bullet” means, other than Africa For Africans, Kill The Boer, etc, etc. And that, Open Stellenbosch, is where you lose me.

Make Stellenbosch’s language policy such that no student or staff member is in any way disadvantaged by a lack of proficiency in Afrikaans? Yes, by all means. Transform an exclusive, traditional, white student culture at Stellenbosch? Yes, sir. Fight all forms of institutionalised racism and sexism on campus? By the power vested in me, yes, yes, yes!

But THIS? Singing violent, racist struggle songs? Waving around a slogan which reminds all South Africans (or at least those who paid attention in their history lessons) of a violent, racist movement that sought not the equality and freedom of all persons that you supposedly stand for, Open Stellenbosch, but a civil war between black and white? DIFFERENT THING, BRA.

By all means, if this is your agenda, go for gold. Seriously. Do your thing. Maybe South Africa needs a civil war. I don’t know. If that’s what you think is necessary, Open Stellenbosch, then give it all you’ve got...“  (Posted on 03 September 2015 at 09:49 Uhr)

While most people would read this Facebook post and see the negativity as an “objective outsider”, it makes objectivity for an “insider” even harder. As the “objective insider” I read this post with prior knowledge about the hatred and anger some South Africans feel towards one another, a post about a protest song and a sarcastically mentioned civil war, tugged at the soul and it is difficult to read it as sarcasm, or a mere rant. This and so many other posts on the Open Stellenbosch Facebook page, feels like calls to action for an “insider”, they are calls for people to stand united and oppose hatred.

The one comment that echoed throughout the Facebook page, was a comment made by Heleen Hofmeyer:

“…but hey, what do I know, right? I’m just a white girl who clearly doesn’t understand”  (Posted on 03 September 2015 at 09:49 Uhr)

This resonated with me, as a white Afrikaans South African, trying to understand my own place in my country, my own identity, my language, my culture, my home…  It made writing an objectively researched opinion hard.

A positive influence on the pursuit of becoming an “objective insider” was working in a group of true “objective outsiders”. The situation demanded the need to explain even the most mundane points about the issue, even though those points are often assumed to be common knowledge. The group created a space where assumptions become ‘alienated’, also described by Amann & Hirschauer in “Befremdung der eigenen Kultur” (1997).

This in turn created a space for alternative interpretations that change your own perspective, due to the fact that all avenues need to be researched, referenced and well documented. Such a situation also creates an opportunity for an “insider” to explore other insights and consider other possible ideas about the issue. As such it pushes the “insider” to acknowledge other opinions about issues that he/she always considered to be the truth.

This reimagining and rethinking of your assumptions and truths are the greatest tools in the process of becoming an “objective insider”.

For more information about the Open Stellenbosch movement please visit our folder with more links, documentary films and further reading material:

Amann, Klaus & Hirschauer, Stefan. (1997). Die Befremdung der eigenen Kultur : ein Programm. In Stefan Hirschauer ; Klaus Amann (Hrsg.), Die Befremdung der eigenen Kultur (pp. 7-52). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.